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Film Review: Seeking Happily Ever After November 9, 2010

Posted by Onely in film review, Singles Resource, We like. . ..
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Seeking Happily Ever After: One Generation’s Struggle to Redefine the Fairy Tale.  Directed and Produced by Michelle Cove; Produced by Kerry David. 2010.

“I keep seeing parts of the movie in my head,” said my friend Monica at dinner, after we saw Seeking Happily Ever After at its DC screening. This is usually the sign of either a very inspiring movie, or a very disturbing one. Seeking Happily Ever After deftly manages to be both.  I hope our Copious Readers get a chance to check it out. If you don’t live near a screening, maybe you can arrange one in your area.

For the award-winning documentary, director Michelle Cove and producer Kerry David didn’t so much “interview” various single women (mostly heterosexual, but including at least two lesbians) as she let them talk–if and why they like their single lives, what “happily ever after” means to them, what their pasts were like and what their hopes are now.  My favorite was the thirty-something woman who said she could imagine herself being perfectly happy as an older single woman with white hair down to her butt, turquoise jewelery, and a bunch of cats milling around at her feet as she sipped a martini with girlfriends (I may be combining one or more interviews, but you get the idea).  The film is full of such gems.

But, like life, it’s also full of nails-on-chalkboard moments of awkwardness and horror. Cove and David don’t whitewash the world of single women. They interview three little girls who, while obviously strong-willed and smart, have still at least partially internalized the princess/marriage myth and say things like “having a husband is more important than having friends” (I was too hypnotized by the movie to take notes, so I apologize if I’m wildly misquoting).  Perhaps more disturbing, at a speed dating event, we see a man who, when asked what he hopes to get out of dating, says, “I can’t answer that on film” (again, this is how I remember his words). In fact, we see a number of the male interviewees (though not all) giving off-the-cuff chauvinist statements to the camera. Those are the scenes that were playing back in *my* head at dinner, although blissfully I seem to have forgotten most of them by now.

The anchor for the film is Jackie (sp?), a funny, independent single woman who is in the dating scene–from speed dating to blind dates–but is also not averse to admitting that she likes sitting at home with her TIVO. The film follows her on some of her dating expeditions and some alone time, and I think she must be about the bravest person in the world to have let the cameras in to some of these moments. Audiences around the country have seen her cry over her awkward childhood relationship with her father (since improved), and watched her suck at an empty beer in desperation during an awkward blind date. We’ve all been there, but just not on film.

Seeking pitches relatable moment after relatable moment at the audience, some hilarious, some shocking. I appreciated that the filmmakers didn’t have an overt agenda. Yes, they wanted to give single women a chance to share their voices. But they didn’t shape the film so that those voices were always liberated, or always hopeful, or always shattering the princess paradigm.

They allowed room for the women to feel the pressure to partner, to want the ruffly princess dress. They spoke to people who are destructive to single women. For example, they interviewed Patti Stanger, “The Millionaire Matchmaker.” I cringed when I heard her talking about how women should rank themselves from one to ten and then look for a mate with an equivalent number. But later in the film, Stanger actually spoke out against the “happily ever after” myth with some wise words that I’ve since forgotten, because I was so shocked to hear them coming out of her mouth. Even Greg Behrendt, of the “He’s Just Not That Into You” batch of sexist tripe (that’s a whole ‘nother post), sounds somewhat enlightened in the film. Who would have thought?

So far, so good, so engaging and educational. But what make the film most interesting–and controversial, in some circles–is the ending.


In the end, Jackie gets a boyfriend.

Don’t panic, Copious Readers! I know you’re saying, “Ah, so we’re back to that same old trope of ‘It’s great to be an enlightened single as long as eventually you get coupled.’ ”  That’s what Monica thought, so she was disappointed with the ending.

I’m not so sure I agree. One, it’s a documentary. If Jackie meets someone (kind and articulate and cute!) at work and starts dating him, who are the filmmakers to censor that? Two, in her final interview Jackie says, “Is this my happily ever after? I don’t know!” and basically shrugs off her “accomplishment” of meeting Gabe as just another phase in life, not a sparkly sunset or anything. Three, during the Q&A session after the screening, someone asked the (annoying and irrelevant) question of whether Jackie and Gabe were still together–and Cove revealed that Jackie got engaged as well, but (if I remember right) they left that out of the film because they themselves were struggling with the problem of ending on the “. . . and then her prince showed up!” note. So that was a decent compromise.

For those of you who can’t get to a screening, here are some links to Youtube clips. Enjoy!



1. Val - November 11, 2010

I loved your statement: I know you’re saying, “Ah, so we’re back to that same old trope of ‘It’s great to be an enlightened single as long as eventually you get coupled.’ “

(Didn’t want to put even more sets of quotes around it!)

This so articulately says what I think of so-called “singles columnist” Susan Deitz. Almost everything she says seems to me to be saying, in every way except straightforward words, that every letter-writer’s issue is temporary, on the path to finding our soul-mate and happily coupling up. (Or re-coupling up.) Barf.

You just put it so much better than I did! It jumped off the page at me with reminders of her!

Onely - November 12, 2010

Hmm, I don’t know this Susan Deitz person. If she’s a “singles columnist” though, I probably should know her (even though she sounds annoying). I will have to add her to my google list. Thanks for the heads-up!

2. Sixty and Single in Seattle - November 12, 2010

Thanks for the wonderful review, Christina. Now I’m going to look and see when/where I can see this film in Seattle!

3. wineneophyteate - February 11, 2012

I have to disagree. I saw this film recently and it didn’t seem that honest to me. Some of those women (the ones who talked about wanting to be fairy tale princesses) seems to be a bit psychotic. These women are like bad archtypes of what single women are, the most obvious of which is that they all think that they are far above average (a statistical improbability) when they really seem to be quite normal. Not to mention the poor research. One of the experts, the author of “The Single Girls Manafesta” isn’t single, she’s divorced.

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